A segment from Berg & Bowker (1997) about the ways in which documents and records fix narratives. I think I picked up Berg’s work from Mol (2002). I particularly like this notion of document time where experience is flattened, and then used in particular ways.
In addition, the record is the very place where a public account of “what has happened” is created. It is when writing into this potential source for retrospective inspection that physicians and nurses construe narratives that align what actually happened with what should have happened, no matter how insignificant these occurrences may seem (Garfinkel, 1967, pp. 197–207; Hunter, 1991). If a patient has been hospitalized for several days, for example, nurses may omit measuring the blood pressure and just fill in yesterday’s measurement in today’s column. Likewise, residents often ask nurses what to prescribe while they complete the order form in the regular fashion, as if it is they who have told the nurses what to do. The same phenomenon occurs in and through the summaries that are continually being produced. In this process, details are omitted, and the story is simplified and retold in ways that fit the situation at hand. This results in an increasing stylization of past events into a standard canon, a sign leading to a diagnosis leading to a therapy leading to an outcome. A sentence like “admitted with Hodgkins, now 8 days post-reinfusion” effectively sets the focus of the current attention. Yet in doing so, it also smoothes over any diagnostic uncertainties that might have played a role, erasing the deliberations that went into the selection of this therapy, and Mr Wood’s fears and anxieties.
Finally, all this adds to the peculiar feature of written text that, once written, tends to have a privileged position, vis-á-vis other recollections of these events (see Clanchy (1993) for the historical genesis of this privilege). Wherever it travels (from the audit committee to the insurance inspector’s desk to the courtroom), it becomes the trace to the “original event”. As Smith (1974) aptly summarizes these issues, accounts enter “document time” once they are written: “that crucial point at which much if not every trace of what has gone into the making of that account is obliterated and what remains is only the text which aims at being read as ‘what actually happened’”
Berg & Bowker (1997), p. 525
Berg, M., & Bowker, G. (1997). The multiple bodies of the medical record: Toward a sociology of an artifact. The Sociological Quarterly, 38(3), 513–537.
Clanchy, M. T. (1993). From memory to written record: England 1066-1307 (2nd ed.). Blackwell.
Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Prentice Hall.
Hunter, K. M. (1991). Doctors’ stories: The narrative structure of medical knowledge. Princeton University Press.
Mol, A. (2002). The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. Duke University Press.
Smith, D. E. (1974). The social construction of documentary reality. Sociological Inquiry, 44(4), 257–268.